"Out Lookin' for Trouble"

by Michael Boss
Casein on Watercolor board
12" X 18"

From the Collection of Nelson Pratt, Wichita, Kansas

A far cry from the days when pipeline patrol was done on horseback, today's pilots have a lot to watch out for.¨› Even the seemingly flat plains of Kansas can present obstacles when flying down and low.¨›Covering miles and miles and miles of terrain, a Pipeline Patrol Pilot has to keep an eye on the ground, one up ahead, and one looking side to side because you never know what you're going to run into.¨› We won't even talk about the high winds and dirt that can make the day's work a very challenging journey.
Flying at low altitudes, the pilot's job is to look for trouble.¨› There can be pipeline damage, vandalism, leaks, people digging, even farmers on tractors or construction workers with heavy equipment on the right of way.¨›Not to mention looking out for their own safety with the terrain, other planes, electrical wires, even flocks of birds as potential hazards.¨›Any conditions found along the pipeline that require repair must be reported.¨›Dead animals or dead grass can be a dead give-away to a situation that needs immediate attention.
Even though the pipelines can be buried for a very long time, much of the land remains "scarred," often giving the pilot a roadmap painted on the earth's canvas to follow throughout the day's route.¨›The dirt may be a different color from being disturbed when the pipeline was built.¨› The warmer ground along the route may yield wheat, grass, or another crop that grows greener than the surrounding area.¨›I had several opportunities to fly with different pipeline pilots from my grade school days up through the mid 1970s.¨›The painting is set in those later days, and the plane is a Cessna 182 Skylane. ¨›¨›¨›
The Kodachrome slides I took helped fill in the specific details of the Mobil Oil Corporation plane.¨› Coupled with my memories from the air along various stretches of the Great Plains, I brought together this bird's eye view of a job that at times could be low, dirty, and rough.¨›And despite the beauty of the sky, the magnificent landscape, and my treasured memories of flying through the beautiful Kansas skies, I'm sure with all the trouble to look out for, the pilot would say that it's not quite as much fun as it looks.
Many thanks to KayLynn Philip and her husband Jay Barker for their background pipeline pilot information and comments that helped tell the story behind the painting which otherwise might just look like any other plane flying through the air.